Just two months are left until the start of the 43rd Chess Olympiad: Batumi will welcome the strongest players on the planet from September 23 to October 5, Georgia will be visited by approximately 4 000 guests from 189 countries. The World Chess Federation – FIDE - and the Continental presidential elections will be held during the Olympiad days. The FIDE presidential elections are in the spotlight: It is known that after Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s 23-year rule, FIDE will have a new leader. There are three candidates: Deputy President, Greek Georgios Makropoulos, Russian Arkady Dvorkovich and English Nigel Short.
The FIDE Presidential Board recently had a meeting in Bucharest, Romania. The European Chess Union president (who is the only candidate for the European Chess Union presidential elections), the director of the NNLE “the Organizing Committee of the 2018 World Chess Olympiad” Zurab Azmaiparashvili talks about the topic and different Olympiad related subjects.
Not much time is left until September 23 – the Chess Olympiad is getting closer. Such a large-scale sporting event has never been held in Georgia: Hosting approximately 4 000 guests from 189 countries for almost a month is connected with numerous important matters. How is Batumi preparing for the Olympiad, how satisfied are you with the organizational works?
Indeed, little time is left until the Olympiad, to be more correct, until its opening. We are, so to say, we are in a final stage of the preparations. At this stage, the work done by the Organizing Committee can be assessed.
First of all, I have to mention that the Organizing Committee, as the Government Organization, was established by the Georgian Chess Federation, my personal– Zurab Azmaiparashvili’s fund and the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara four years ago, as soon as Batumi was awarded the organization. I have been the Director of the Organizing Committee since 2014 and I can assure you that, throughout this time, our team has been doing everything necessary for holding such a high-class sporting event.
In addition, please note that the decision the Georgian Government made this year was utterly important – creating the Government Commission that assists the execution of the 2018 World Chess Olympiad, I am also the Commission’s member and it is now headed by the Minister of Culture and Sport of Georgia Mikheil Giorgadze.
The Organizing Committee, which carries out daily preparations activities - was established on the basis of this Commission, and the Georgian Chess Federation President Giorgi Giorgadze and the Mayor of the city hosting the Olympiad – Batumi – Mr. Lasha Komakhidze were appointed as the co-Chairmen of the Committee.
In my capacity as the Director of the Organizing Committee, I can state with full responsibility, that every single member of our team thoroughly understands and realizes the importance of the Olympiad and works extremely hard to achieve the appropriate result – from with the Creative Group of the opening and closing ceremonies to with the volunteers. I believe that each one of us will do his/her utmost in order to achieve the common aim and I would like to thank each member of the Organizing Committee for their efforts.
To sum up, I can freely say that during the Olympiad days, all the guests of our country will be satisfied with the level of the organization and hosting.
During the Olympiad days, the Presidents of the FIDE and Continental Chess Federations will also be elected. You have been the President of the European Chess Union for the last four years and are again participating in the elections, although, with a new team…
Yes, my team has a bit changed. I think that I, together with those who think alike, have made numerous progressive decisions, but frequently searching for something new is a necessary step in order to move forward and this is the explanation behind having new teammates in my presidential ticket.
Theodoros Tsorbatzoglou has been the ECU Secretary General throughout the past four years and he will continue working as the Secretary General. I definitely have to say that not only the European Chess Union, but even the World Chess Federation has not had a Secretary General with such a high level of professionalism, for a very long time.
Theodoros has strong cooperation with the Chess Federations of 54 European countries, knows every subject to its small detail and is distinguished with his sense of responsibility, which clearly, should be valued. I will also add that apart from fulfilling his responsibilities as the Secretary General, Theodoros successfully does the work of a lawyer…
Ion-Serban Dobronauteanu is also from the old team. He was the Deputy President in 2014-2018, though, in the next presidential period, he will be the ECU Treasurer. He, himself expressed the desire to work as a Treasurer. He is a young man and wants to try his abilities in every position and that is why I supported his initiative…
I named the Icelandic Chess Federation President Gunnar Bjornsson as the Deputy President candidate. With his efforts, the Reykjavik Open Championship is held on a very high level in Iceland, the prize fund might not be large, but numerous chess players still travel there to play. There are wonderful conditions for the chess players, because of Gunnar’s efforts and everybody acknowledges this. Apart from the fact that he is a high-class manager, he is also a very kind person and has achieved much love and respect in the chess world, which, of course, I took into account while choosing the team. In general, Gunnar Bjornsson is Georgia’s and my great friend…
Austrian Johann Poecksteiner is in our team as well. He is also a new member of the team, but he has been the ECU Board member for years and was always distinguished with good and timely advice and his knowledge of the matters.
As for the Latvian Grandmaster, Mrs. Dana Reizniece-Ozola, I will not be exaggerating if I say that, she is the main treasure of my team! She was actually a successful player in the nearest past – you probably know that she even defeated the Women’s World Chess Champion (at that time) Hou Yifan at the 2016 Chess Olympiad… Apart from the fact that Mrs. Reizniece-Ozola is a wonderful chess player, she is also a brilliant politician: she is the Minister of Finance of the Republic of Latvia and I hope that this is not the peak of her career.
You do not have an opponent in the European Chess Union presidential elections. I wonder, are the relations with the delegates easier in a time like this, or when you are fighting against someone for the presidency?
The fact that I am the only candidate is, probably, because of my teammates. In general, I think that in the presidential elections the Olympic motto – participation is what matters – is inappropriate. The candidate who participates in an election has to be sure of his victory. Otherwise, I do not see the point in fighting… Perhaps, the membership strength and the growing potential of my team was exactly what affected my probable opponents. We should not forget that throughout the past four years, many fortunate changes have been made in the European Chess union, which, clearly, has played its role. I would especially distinguish the ECU Educational Commission, which we created and which has carried out numerous interesting projects…
I do not have an opponent, and in my opinion, this is good. Furthermore: I was delighted. The fact that only my team and I are participating in the election indicates that we can properly do this very important job and I am certain, after the elections, throughout the next four years, we will uplift the European Chess Union to a completely different level.
The Presidental Board of the International Chess Federation has formed a special committee for the upcoming elections in Batumi at their quarterly meeting held in Bucharest, the committee that is to make sure that the process is transparent and fair. Do you, as a member of the Presidental Board and one of the supporters of this committee, think that the chance of a corruption deal is big?
First of all, I should emphasize that the Presidental Board’s decision to establish the Electoral Integrity Committee for transparent elections is very necessary and timely! Moreover, this step is somewhat delayed. I say this because every election was followed by a lot of questions... Everyone remembers Mr. Anatoly Karpov's harsh comments and questions, same as Bessel Kok’s or Garry Kasparov's speeches. Unfortunately, their protests and talks were not followed by specific steps. I can't say anything as to why Karpov, Kok or Kasparov have not shown more effort.
The first one who initiated the creation of the anti-corruption authority and turned his words into action was the acting Head of FIDE and one of the presidential candidates Mr. Georgios Makropoulos.
I will say this directly: FIDE has formed the Electoral Integrity Committee and yes, this step had a very good timing! Today, more than ever, it was necessary to create the above-mentioned body. I'll remind you that a few years ago, because of a financial scandal, almost all heads of FIFA and UEFA had resigned from their posts. The main purpose and the challenge of Electoral Integrity Committee will be to avoid the events which had unfortunately developed in the world football family.
I will be frank: I am fond of one of the candidates as an individual, I have Arkady Dvorkovich in mind, however, he, lets say, is a very high profile player: Russian politician, the first state adviser, who was appointed as an assistant of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on May 13, 2008 and on May 21st, 2012 - with Vladimir Putin's order - was selected as the Deputy Prime-Minister of Russia. He has held high positions in the Russian establishment. In addition, we should not forget that Dvorkovich represents the country that in the nearby past has been in the center of attention, because of multiple number of doping scandals or other reasons and was punished with the strict sanctions of the International Olympic Committee and various international sports unions....
Nobody wants for the head of FIDE to be someone who got there by means of dirty ways. Mr. Makropoulos’s initiative serves exactly this. Electoral Integrity Committee will only be the supporter of the candidates and in general, the election process. FIDE, so to speak, is starting internal cleaning, which every fan of chess, and me among them, should welcome.
The Presidential Board meeting in Bucharest was attended by one of the candidates of FIDE Presidency, Arkady Dvorkovich, who led the Organizing Committee of the football World Cup held in Russia. It is a fact that FIDE did not invite Dvorkovich. Why do you think that such a high-ranking Russian official attended the Presidential Board meeting?
As far as I know, Dvorkovich, who was heading the Organizing Committee of the football World Cup, left Russia twice during the tournament. Besides Bucharest, he also visited Riga…
Knowing the importance of the FIFA World Cup, I’m surprised that he had enough time to go abroad. Perhaps, the misunderstanding that took place after the final, during the award ceremony - I mean when the presidents of FIFA, France and Croatia, along with other high-ranking officials, were left in the rain without an umbrella - was due to the lack of attention from the head of the Organizing Committee.
Generally, Dvorkovich's visit to Bucharest is a sign that the Russia's high-ranking official knows exactly who will be his main opponent in the presidential elections. Let me remind you that Mr. Makropoulos and his team have got open support of presidents of 64 federations, and Dvorkovich understood that to reach his goal, he first had to negotiate with the competitor.
There is nothing to hide: Georgios Makropoulos and Arkady Dvorkovich have talked face to face in Bucharest. Their meeting started late at night and lasted for a few hours until dawn. I can confirm that Dvorkovich offered Makropoulos to join his team and be the second in rank, if Georgios gave up taking part in the elections. However, it should be said in favor of the FIDE Deputy President, that he had declined all such offers. Despite all this, I think that Dvorkovich will try once again to persuade his competitor, however, it could be said today that "the first round of negotiations" has ended with his defeat.
I would like to emphasize that the goal of Dvorkovich's visit was not just to have a speech in front of the Presidential Board. It is proven by the fact that he talked to the Board, traditionally, superficially, saying that FIDE should follow FIFA in the direction of the modern management and that they should not allow the management of just one country etc…
The main thing was that he, let’s say, tested the waters, got acquainted with the opinions of the "significant members" of the Board concerning his candidacy. He talked to the President of the Continental Federation of America - Jorge Vega – for a long time, met with me, as well as with several other members of the Board, however, the main purpose of his visit was, obviously, to talk face to face with Makropoulos.
How did Georgios Makropoulos react to Arkady Dvorkovich's proposal?
He proposed to Dvorkovich to step down from this year’s elections and offered the leadership of the Advisory Panel of FIDE President. From my point of view, Makropoulos’ position is the right one. FIDE presidential candidate should prove to the world that he is appropriate for the position and only after that, be able to run. The fact that Arkady Dvorkovich is a successful functionary in Russia and holds chess tournaments is not enough to give him a spot as the head of the world chess movement.
Another candidate for the FIDE presidency, English Nigel Short, responded to the appearance of the opponent in Bucharest. He did not like the behavior of Georgios Makropoulos...
Yes, Short responded to Dvorkovich's appearance in Romania via social network and criticized the Presidential Board, including Makropoulos, for the candidate’s reception. However, Short received a worthy response from Makropoulos - Dvorkovich's reception was a matter of upbringing and culture and had he also arrived in Bucharest, he as well, would have been given the chance to make a speech. As I have already mentioned, if the candidate does not have a chance to win, participation in the elections should not be his goal. Short is a decent chess player, however, he is unpopular among the chess functionaries because of his famous statements aimed at numerous high-ranking officials and the federation. He knows very well that his victory in the elections is impossible. Moreover, I think that Short will get a maximum of 20-25 votes out of the 188. By my deepest belief, this 20-25 votes will be from the delegates who, under no circumstances, would support Arkady Dvorkovich, because of their political views.
I think that Nigel Short himself and his teammates are well aware of his chances of winning in the elections, however, they are still participating. Therefore, it is wise to think that Short is trying to hinder Makropoulos and his participation decreases Makropoulos’ chances of winning in the first round.
This opinion is strengthened by a famous chess figure, Singaporean Ignatius Leong's desire for Dvorkovich and Short to unite their teams against Makropoulos, which Leong shared through one of social media. (We will remind you that this is the Leong who was in Garry Kasparov's presidential ticket in 2014 and a year later, he and Kasparov were forbidden to participate in any type of elections for two and a half years by the FIDE Ethics Commission, because of a corruptive deal – L. G.).
A few days ago, in an interview to one of the Russian publications, Arkady Dvorkovich said that the former president of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, “in a way”, would be a member of his team. It is known that because of Ilyumzhinov FIDE had faced multiple problems, being mainly the ground for the FIDE Ethics Commission’s decision to disqualify Ilyumzhinov. Considering this, how would you evaluate Dvorkovich's above-mentioned statement?
I would like to tell you that I would have been very surprised if Arkady Dvorkovich had started to publicly criticize Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Ilyumzhinov has been the head of FIDE for 23 years, as for Dvorkovich, despite the fact that in Russia he is known as a chess supporter, for the world chess family, let’s say he is still an unknown figure. However, Dvorkovich, as a smart politician, understands that in elections personal relationships and connections are very important, which Ilyumzhinov does not lack. His and Ilyumzhinov's relationship may not be called friendly, but Dvorkovich would not allow himself to lose any of the supporters of the former President of FIDE, and therefore their respective votes - this important resource.
The president, who has been heading the World Chess Federation for nearly a quarter of a century, was recently strictly punished by the Ethics Commission – he was officially dismissed from the office.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has done a lot of good things for chess. However, despite everything, he did not manage to leave his position gracefully. Moreover, after the sanctions of the United States, especially in the last year, he had created many problems for FIDE, was threatening that he wanted to become President for another term and so on.
I would like to remind everyone that he had violated all the moral codes in order to gain special support from the Russian establishment and received a delegation of self-proclaimed Abkhazia in Russia, furthermore, he even awarded them as the FIDE President. Because of this, during his visit to Georgia, Makropoulos, as the acting Deputy President of FIDE, apologized to Georgian people on behalf of FIDE.
Ilyumzhinov’s recent actions had led to the UBS closing FIDE bank accounts. The Ethics Commission was forced to strictly punish Ilyumuzhinov. I don't think that FIDE had any other choice.
By the way, I should say here that the world chess family has no guarantee that the US sanctions will not affect Dvorkovich as well. Let's not forget that Ilyumzhinov was not the only senior Russian official who suffered such a problem, Dvorkovich is in the list of pre-sanctioned people… I suppose, in case he is elected, that the problems that FIDE is facing nowadays will not and cannot be resolved.
Generally, I think that taking the stories related to Ilyumzhinov into account, FIDE should make some kind of a decision which will become a rule and which will help eradicate such problems before they arise and, forbid such, let’s say, “problematic” candidates to run in the elections.
Bulgarian Silvio Danailov, who was your opponent four years ago in the ECU presidential election, said, according to the information from one of Olympiad’s sponsors, that the Organizing Committee of the 43rd World Chess Olympiad is no longer directed by you. Later, one of the chess websites shared the story. What would you say about that?
I have not paid attention to Danailov's statements for a while now. After his defeat 4 years ago in the ECU presidential election, his behavior has become very inadequate, not to say anything about the false information spread by him from time to time.
It is disappointing that the Russian website chess-news.ru, which, by the way, is led by Surov, who is a son-in-law of Georgians, is spreading and sharing such baseless rumors. Personally, I think that the publication that claims to be objective and reliable should not be paying attention to such slanders....
It is like a famous Soviet joke, Danailov's hints about one of the sponsors of the Olympiad was like this - I won't name the collective’s (kolkhoz) chairman. Thinking about this logically, only one of the sponsors could have given this so-called "information" and this sponsor is "SOCAR", whose general manager, Mahir Mammadov has been friends with him for years. It should also be noted that Mahir Mammadov has had a close and long friendship with the Georgian chess for years. It is impossible to think that Mr. Mammadov (who, by the way, is in Arkady Dvorkovich's ticket) has spread such cheap misinformation. Therefore, I believe that this step was taken to discredit Mahir Mammadov, aiming at ruining the relationship between the latter and us. I want to convince the chess community that I do not follow such provocation and I hope that Mr. Mammadov will continue to support Georgian chess in the future.
The FIDE presidential elections are in its decisive phase, how will the events develop before the "hot elections"?
Everyone is interested in this issue. I think that FIDE's main challenge is to ensure transparency and reliability of the process. Everything is being done for this and the Electoral Integrity Committee serves exactly this goal. We must move to the open and fair elections once and for all, and eventually, eliminate various vices: bribery, intimidation and so on. Otherwise, we will never be able to move on to the modern methods of management, which, first of all, will be harmful to chess.
My personal position is known to everyone. In recent years, considering the current crisis, Georgios Makropoulos has been a good leader for FIDE and I support him for that. It should also be noted that he added a steady competing calendar to FIDE’s financial stability. For this and many other reasons, I think that he is the best and worthiest candidate.
However, the elections are elections, and anything can happen, theoretically, it is even possible for Nigel Short to become a president. I, as the future leader of the European Chess Union, am ready to cooperate with everyone.
I have mentioned bribery, corruption frauds and intimidation. From my side, I exclude Short and Makropoulos from the presidential candidates who will be using these methods. The only candidate who can use powerful diplomatic, administrative and financial resources is Arkady Dvorkovich.
I had a good relationship with his father, who was an international arbiter. In the last century’s 90s, his father was also an administrator of Garry Kasparov's team, in which I was one of the coaches... I'll repeat: I am fond of Dvorkovich, but everyone knows that Kremlin is supporting him and in order to reach the final goal, they are willing to sacrifice anything, including large financial resources. I suspect that by spending a lot of money, Kremlin's desire is to be the only ruler of the chess world. For FIDE and its managers (I mean the people who were heading the World Chess Federation in the period of crisis) dignity and respect of each FIDE member country’s federation is much more valuable than money. Georgios Makropoulos’s motto - "dignity over money" - clearly expresses their position.
Taking all of this into account, I would advise Dvorkovich to wait, achieve to establish himself as a dignified person to the world chess family and only then engage in the competitive battle. I would also advise him to stop using the methods that are currently being used (I mean the invitation of several African delegates to the semi-finals and the finals of the World Cup in Russia). Taking such steps before the upcoming elections, to say it softly, does not look pretty. I will also ask a rhetorical question here: Would Dvorkovich remember all of these people if he wasn’t participating in the FIDE presidential elections in two months?
And finally, because the elections are held in Georgia (Batumi), as a Georgian, I must say - Dvorkovich cannot escape the fact that his country and Kremlin had captured my homeland, Georgia's ancient corner, Samachablo and Kodori Valley exactly 10 years ago. Georgia remembers a lot of unacceptable things from Russia, but the 2008 war and such an open aggression has never been there before. Exactly in that period, during the August war days, Dvorkovich was assisting Russia's President. Although it was in economic and financial issues, but still... In the recent past, he was the Deputy Prime Minister of the country that has occupied 20% of my country…
Such a high-ranking person should acknowledge and take into account that the Georgian people cannot be positive towards his persona. Before his arrival in Batumi for the FIDE presidential elections, I advise him to understand the situation and carefully find the messages that will at least slightly change the attitude of the Georgian people towards him.
Interview by Lasha Goduadze